When it comes to implementing a healthier lifestyle, we often have the best intentions. However, just because we want to get healthier doesn’t mean we know how to do it. Luckily, most of our errors are pretty easy to correct. Here from The Remedy are the 25 worst mistakes you can make when trying to get healthier, according to doctors and leading health experts.
Eliminating bad habits—such as smoking—is obviously beneficial for your health. However, sometimes in order to truly give up unhealthy habits we need to think ahead and replace them with good ones, says Daniel Atkinson, the GP Clinical Lead at Treated.com. For example, if you smoke you might typically have a cigarette in the morning before you prepare for your day. “Perhaps you’ve been doing this for a number of years,” says Atkinson. “But even after a short amount of time, your brain will begin to expect this because it’s part of your personal routine—and this is without even really considering the addictive impact of nicotine on the brain.” This can have a negative impact on your mood and emotional wellbeing. “You might get nagging cravings, feel irritable, feel grumpy, depressed, anxious or generally moody.”
The Remedy Rx: “The trick is to replace the cigarette with another action, another behavior,” says Atkinson. For example, instead of having a cigarette, have some nicotine gum or, better yet, go for a morning jog. “Anything that is healthier will do,” he says. The idea is to learn a new behavior which replaces the old habit, and then fully incorporate it into your routine. “It’s difficult, but certainly doable with a bit of support and willpower!”
The alarm goes off and you press snooze. Harmless, right? While most of us are guilty of doing it from time to time, according to Atkinson, it can be detrimental to your health. “Maybe you’ve noticed after a good night’s sleep, when you first hear the alarm and wake up, you feel fairly fresh and alert? But the snooze button is too tempting, so back to sleep for another 10 minutes you go,” he says. However, after those 10 minutes of extra sleep, you might wake up feeling groggy and tired. “There is some evidence that suggests this is because, when we press snooze and you fall back to sleep, we’re actually tricking our bodies into thinking we’re entering a new, deep sleep cycle, which is then interrupted 10 minutes later,” he explains.
The Remedy Rx: While pressing snooze isn’t going to kill you, he still recommends trying to wake up when your alarm initially goes off. “If people attain the recommended amount of sleep—6-8 hours—and wake up to that first alarm, many will feel fresher and better for it, especially if you’re looking to lead a healthier, more active life in the New Year,” he says.
While eating healthy is key to staying healthy, an overly restrictive diet rarely results in health benefits, points out David Greuner, MD, of NYC Surgical Associates. “Many trying to get healthier will commonly make dietary mistakes. When people decide to go on a diet, restriction is a common mistake,” he says. Some examples are cutting out all carbs, sweets, or meals altogether. Although this may lead to fast weight loss, they are not always sustainable solutions.
The Remedy Rx: Instead of going on a super restrictive diet, Dr. Greuner suggests creating overall lifestyle changes. “Remember that having a cheat meal is okay,” he points out. “Listening to our bodies is one of the most important parts of trying to get healthier!”
So many people get excited about getting healthier that they decide to make several major changes at once. However, according to Rachel Franklin, MD, Medical Director of OU Physicians Family Medicine in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, it rarely results in long-term success. “Doing everything at once—drastically changing your diet, committing to daily exercise and meal prep and tidying up the house and finding a new hobby—is a recipe for failure,” she explains.
The Remedy Rx: It’s great to make lifestyle changes. However, do so at a pace you can actually maintain. “Pick one thing at a time and lock it in before moving on to the next change,” Dr. Franklin suggests.
The amount of water we need to stay hydrated depends on various factors including height, weight, and level of physical activity, so figuring out how much to drink can be challenging. However, Serena Poon, a leading chef, nutritionist and reiki master, explains that figuring it out can be game changing when it comes to your health. “When our bodies are properly hydrated, everything functions better—our metabolism, our digestion, our natural detoxification process, mental acuity and our bodies’ ability to properly absorb vital nutrients.” Unfortunately, she maintains that nearly every one of her clients comes to her dehydrated. “Drinking enough water and staying hydrated creates an immediate shift in the way our bodies look and feel and is a fundamental factor in maintaining a healthy lifestyle.”
The Remedy Rx: Make sure to stay hydrated! “Set a goal of drinking an ounce of water per pound that you weigh and use a refillable water container to keep track of how much you drink,” suggests Poon.
Sleep is absolutely crucial to your overall health, yet many people aren’t getting enough of it. “I am personally guilty of this too often!” admits Poon. “When we sleep, our bodies rest, reset and re-cooperate.” As much as we think we can skip sleep to “be more productive” and “get more done,” she points out that our bodies actually function less efficiently and effectively without enough sleep. “A lack of sleep can weaken our immune system, disrupt our gut health and completely throw our hormones out of balance.”
The Remedy Rx: Poon suggests setting a goal of at least 7 hours of sleep a night. Also, have a pre-bedtime routine to help you wind down your day so that you can achieve your sleep goals!
While using your electronic device as a tool to help with your weight loss journey—such as tracking what you eat and your exercise—can be beneficial for your health, using it as a distraction while eating isn’t doing you any favors. “Being distracted while eating, such as watching television or answering emails, can lead to mindless eating,” explains Joanne C. Skaggs, MD, of Internal Medicine at OU Medicine in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.
The Remedy Rx: Put your phone down while you eat! “We encourage mindful eating,” says Dr. Skaggs.
For several years, many of us believed that replacing high-fat foods with “low fat” foods was the key to weight loss. However, Atkinson points out that when people are trying to be healthier, some make the mistake of assuming low-fat options are always healthy and lower in calories, when often the opposite is true. He also points out that there are lots of different labels that manufacturers can opt to use that tend to be misleading—such as “light,” “fat-free,” “reduced fat,” and “lower-fat.”
The Remedy Rx: Be aware that the label can be misleading and do your research. “My advice would be to always read the nutritional label, which is a requirement of law that manufacturers must abide by,” says Atkinson. “Nutritional information, as a minimum, should tell you the amount of energy (calories, kcal), fat, saturated fat (usually just labeled saturates), sugar and salt.”
While the consensus is that a balanced and nutritionally rich diet is optimal, in their efforts to lead healthier lives and consume better diets, many people make the mistake of thinking they should only be eating fruits and vegetables. Some of them even eat the same types of fruit and vegetables consistently. “While it’s certainly true that fruits and vegetables are one of the most important and fundamental food groups, they do not make up for the entirety of the vitamins and nutrients are bodies need,” says Atkinson. “Our bodies do actually need some fatty foods like oils and spreads, albeit it in small amounts”
The Remedy Rx: Diversify your diet. As a guide, aim for around 35% fruit and vegetables, 35% starchy carbohydrates (as high in fiber as possible), 17% high protein foods like meat, eggs and nuts, 10% dairy or dairy alternative and 3% oil and spreads, suggests Atkinson. Additionally, it’s important to “mix up” your diet as often as you can. “Eat a broad variety of foods that fall into one group, not the same types of food each day,” he says. “Don’t stick to the same meals every day, even if they’re considered ‘healthy’ meals!”
It’s not just what you eat, but how much of it you are eating, reminds Atkinson. “Each of us have something called a ‘maintenance calorie intake’—the amount of calories we need to consume to not gain or lose any weight. It’s based on our energy intake (food) and our energy output (bodily functions, movement, exercise).”
For men, this is an average of around 2,500 calories a day to maintain their weight and women, 2,000. So, for example, if a woman consumes just 1,500 calories and does not change a single thing about her daily routine, she would begin to lose weight. Were she to consume 2,500 calories and not change her daily routine, she would begin to gain weight. “This is how weight gain and loss work,” Atkinson continues. “There’s no magic diet or hack that will help us lose weight.”
The Remedy Rx: If you want to lose weight, consume less calories than you are burning. “This means that even if you cut all unhealthy food from your diet—the takeaways, sweets, chocolate and replace that with healthy foods—if you’re still consuming more healthy food than that which you burn, you will not lose weight,” Atkinson explains. This is why it’s so important that we keep an eye on our portion sizes and make every effort to count our calories.
Fish may be packed with lots of vitamins and minerals, but there are also some not-so-great things lurking in the water in which they swim, warns Kristine Blanche, RPA-C, PhD. “Fish used to be one of the healthiest foods on the planet, but we have poisoned the oceans with mercury,” she explains. While all fish have mercury, it is the big fish that are the most dangerous to people and pets.
The Remedy Rx: “I suggest avoiding tuna, swordfish, mahi, and even wild salmon,” Dr. Blanche suggests. “If the fish is bigger than your plate when the fisherman catches it, do not eat it.” Instead, stick with small fish like sardines, anchovies, or branzino.
While Dr. Blanche endorses a gluten-free diet, she points out that if people change their diet to all gluten free carbs, they are still just eating processed carbohydrates, i.e. sugar. “Sugar and simple carbs decrease the immune system, putting you at an increased risk for insulin resistance and diabetes, and also feed cancer cells,” she explains.
The Remedy Rx: If you do go gluten-free, focus your diet around whole, unprocessed foods and carbohydrates, like whole grains and legumes.
Not all nutritional supplements are created equal, warns Dr. Blanche. “The supplement industry is the wild west and the regulations are not protecting the consumer,” she explains. “I have patients come with shopping bags full of supplements, then do their labs, which reveal that they are not absorbing anything in those supplements.” In fact, sometimes they can even cause harm, including mercury or lead poisoning.
The Remedy Rx: Be your own health advocate and do a lot of research before you start taking supplements. Also, always check with your medical provider to make sure that whatever supplements you want to take aren’t going to counteract with something you are already taking, or complicate a pre-existing health condition.
Despite the fact that the United States’ Centers for Disease Control urges the importance of getting a yearly flu shot, many Americans opt against the jab. The truth is, you can be the healthiest person alive, but the flu can still majorly take you down—and can even be life threatening. And no, the flu shot isn’t going to cause you to get the flu, or weaken your immune system.
The Remedy Rx: You should get the flu shot every single year before flu season starts (late October, early November), tho it’s not too late.
Most people are well aware that binge drinking isn’t going to do them any favors for a variety of reasons ranging from mental health to physical. However, even moderate drinking can be incredibly damaging for some people, points out Tarek I. Hassanein, MD, FACP, FACG, AGAF, FAASLD, and owner of Southern California Liver & GI Center.
The Remedy Rx: “Zero alcohol is the best,” explains Dr. Hassanein. “If you do drink it, make sure you consume no more than one drink for women and two drinks for men per day.”
It’s easy to put off recommended health screenings, such as mammograms and colonoscopy screenings, considering they can be a pain in the butt. However, failing to stay on top of them can be the difference between life and death, considering that if most cancers are caught earlier the prognosis is usually better.
The Remedy Rx: “Screenings can be lifesaving,” maintains Dr. Hassanein, who recommends staying on top of all preventative measures that can help to keep your health in check.
There are tons of trendy detoxes and cleanses that promise to clean out your system of toxins. However, many can do harm more good. In addition to dehydration, they can starve your body of necessary vitamins and nutrients. “Detoxification approaches are more gimmicks than reality since the body knows how to detoxify itself,” Dr. Hassanein points out.
The Remedy Rx: Since the body naturally cleanses itself, help it out by drinking plenty of water and eating natural and healthy food.
One of the United States Federal Drug Administration’s main missions is to protect the public health “by ensuring the safety, efficacy, and security of human and veterinary drugs, biological products, and medical devices; and by ensuring the safety of our nation’s food supply, cosmetics, and products that emit radiation.” They have a strict criteria of approval for a reason—to protect our health from things that could be potentially dangerous.
The Remedy Rx: Dr. Hassanein urges the importance of sticking to FDA-approved products and procedures. “Be smart,” he advises. “Don’t believe everything you hear that has not been reviewed by the FDA.”
Some people have an idea that taking psychiatric medication can be negatively impacting their health in other ways. For example, you might think it is responsible for your weight gain. Or, if a woman gets pregnant, she might believe that it could damage the development of their child. However, Theresa M. Peronace-Onorato, MACP, SAC at Anchor Points Counseling in Huntington Valley, PA, points out that quitting many types of medications cold turkey—without the help of a psychiatrist—can seriously compromise your health.
The Remedy Rx: “Always talk with your psychiatrist before you stop taking medication and see if there is a safer alternative,” she encourages. For example, in the case of a pregnant mother, her mental well-being (including her diagnosis) should all be taken into consideration before medication is stopped.
Taking vitamins isn’t enough. You have to take the right vitamins in order to get healthier. “Many people make huge mistakes and take the wrong vitamins when trying to get healthier. Did you know that taking vitamins that are not high quality or even those that are high quality in the wrong doses can be very dangerous?” says Arielle Levitan MD, co-founder Vous Vitamin LLC. In fact, you can actually make your health worse (think kidney stones, heart disease, constipation, dementia, liver failure, cancer and more) by taking the wrong vitamins. And no, your body does not just “pee them out.” “Don’t start taking things that the stock person at Whole Foods recommends or you heard about on TV,” she continues. “Vitamins are like other medications in that they can be tremendously beneficial to your health, but also quite dangerous if you don’t take the right nutrients in safe and proper amounts.”
The Remedy Rx: “Taking the right vitamins to meet your individual needs is essential and it’s important to do so under the supervision of medically trained experts,” says Dr. Levitan, who suggests getting a personalized daily multivitamin that contains the right vitamins in the proper amounts based on who you are, your diet, lifestyle and health concerns.
Most of us stretch before exercising in order to reduce potential injuries. However, Charles Odonkor, MD, Yale Medicine physiatrist, points out that stretching incorrectly without proper technique can cause more harm than good. “Stretching a muscle too far too fast can injure yourself,” he explains.
The Remedy Rx: Before you stretch, Dr. Odonkor suggests rolling out your muscles. “This puts pressure on areas you’re rolling and sends a message to the brain for that area to relax,” he explains. Also, do a light warm activity such as jumping jacks, jogging, biking, walking for 5-10 minutes.
People often forget about maintaining proper form—whether they are in the gym or doing things around the house. “As we strive to keep up with resolutions for getting in shape, it is important to pay attention to weight lifting techniques,” points out Dr. Odonkor. For example, twisting of the trunk and using the back muscles instead of the legs while lifting heavy objects can increase the risk for a ruptured or herniated disc. Additionally, repetitive activities with manually demanding tasks such as shoveling, bending forward to lift heavy weights rather than squatting, sedentary lifestyle, and staying seated for long periods, also puts intense pressure on the spine and vertebral discs.
The Remedy Rx: Whether you are doing yardwork or pumping iron, pay attention to your form.
So many people immediately ice sprained or strained muscles, thinking it is going to help with inflammation. However, Dr. Odonkor maintains it may cause significant increase in muscle damage from [eccentric] exercise, hinder recovery, and decrease muscle strength.
The Remedy Rx: “Heat works best for sprains and muscle sprains as to cause more blood flow to the injured area to bring nutrients for healing and recovery,” explains Dr. Odonkor.
Exercise is one of the best things you can do for your health. However, there is a such thing as overdoing it. “I commonly see patients who create unreasonable expectations for themselves when it comes to exercise goals,” Sean Peden, MD, a Yale Medicine orthopedic surgeon, explains. Not only can over-exercising result in injuries, but people who overdo it tend to burn out.
The Remedy Rx: Pace yourself. “Working out should be fun and a break from the stress of your normal life,” says Dr. Peden. “Forcing yourself to fit in workouts, or feeling guilty about not doing so, can add to your stress level. Know yourself and create a routine that is reasonable and enjoyable for you!”
Dr. Peden also points out that in addition to proper technique, having the right fitness gear is also crucial. “I frequently see patients who develop tendinitis, stress fractures, plantar fasciitis, and other conditions because they use poor form and poor footwear and take on too many miles too soon,” he explains, adding that this analogy also applies to the weight room and workout classes as well.
The Remedy Rx: In addition to form, make sure you have the right footwear or any other equipment needed for the exercise you are doing. And to live your happiest and healthiest life, don’t miss these 101 Unhealthiest Habits on the Planet.